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Who Owns Your Lake Shoreline?

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This article was updated on August 15, 2019.


Lake Shoreline
Having property on a lake is amazing, but when it comes to the shoreline, someone else –  depending on the situation – may own it. For instance, some properties entitle you to use the water, but not to construct a dock or other structure by the shoreline.

Before purchasing a home on the lake, make sure you ask about shoreline ownership.

Power Companies

Power companies often build lakes for hydroelectric power generation and similar uses; this means that the company owns the lake. However, they may allow the land around the lake to be sold or leased. Many times these leases are for long periods of time – such as 100 years (more on that later).

Usually, these lakes are open for recreational use, but the power companies that own them typically instruct homeowners and visitors to follow certain restrictions and user guidelines. 

Private Property Owner

Say there is a large acreage property with a lake on it. If the lake is situated completely within the land’s perimeter, then the owner of the land also owns the lake. The lake is considered to be private property, and the owner can do with it as they wish.

Another private property example is when a home is on land that extends to the lake shoreline, but the lake itself is not part of the land purchased. 

In this instance, only the property is private. A real estate agent will be able to tell you where the property line ends and where dock construction is permitted. 

In other instances, property owners own the home, the land, and part of the shoreline. If your property includes shoreline ownership, its value could increase. 

Corps of Engineers

Part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ role is “planning, designing, building, and operating locks and dams.”

The Corps owns and operates more than 200 locks and dams throughout the United States, and in many instances own the lake, shoreline, and the property in the immediate area.

Although on some lakes property can be sold for private ownership and use, there are other lakes on which no private construction or ownership is allowed.

However, even if no private construction or ownership is permitted, the Corps usually provides public access boat ramps so that people can still enjoy the lake by boat. They are are also usually public campgrounds and nature areas located nearby.

Leased Lots

As previously mentioned, some entities, like power companies, own a lake and the surrounding land but offer leased lots. These leased lots can be confusing to those who do not have experience dealing with them.

If you buy a home on a power company-owned lake, the home you purchased will be yours. The land, however, may be leased from the power company. But you don’t have to worry about the length of your lease term. Many lakes will lease land in 100-year terms.  

Buying a home on a leased lot is almost a hybrid between an inheritance and a leasing agreement. 

Buyers don’t have to renegotiate lease terms with every property purchase. Instead lease agreements, responsibilities and property additions – like boathouses and docks – are “passed down” to the next buyer. 

An important thing to remember about leased lots though is that the original landowner (the utility company) maintains ownership of the land when leasing terms expire.

Violating shoreline ownership rules and restrictions can result in fees and fines owed.

Before purchasing a home on the lake, ask your real estate agent about the shoreline. Any lake expert agent will be able to tell you who owns the shoreline and what restrictions may be in place.


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Glenn S. Phillips is the CEO of Lake Homes Realty. He is also an author and speaker. When not thinking about real estate and technology, he periodically plays his ugly tuba (complete with a bullet hole), enjoys exploring cognitive thinking, and prefers dark chocolate.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Audrey Oliver June 24, 2018 at 10:12 pm

Can any one please tell me anything about my father’s Cabin at Timber Ridge North of Gainesville, GA. My father’s name was Tom Brown Morgan. He had a 99 year lease from the Corps of engineers. I would like to know the status of the leased land. He built a cabin on this property in or about 1972. I am very interested in leasing this property again if I could. My father passed away in 2013. Thank you very much for your help in this most important matter. This means a great to me . Thank you very much.

Reply

Glenn S. Phillips June 27, 2018 at 6:19 pm

Hi Audrey,
We are getting your info to one of our Lake Lanier agents, who will be in the best position to try an help you with this particular question. If you need additional help, please email us at clientservices@lakehomes.com or give us a call at (205) 986-2991.
Thank you for reaching out to us!
Lake Homes Realty

Reply

J bryant May 27, 2019 at 2:22 am

We own a lake home on lake Norman. Duke energy developed this lake in the 1960 ,s. Part of the lake bed was purchased from owners. Our shoreline was provided via a permanent flow age easement that Duke purchased from the owners. We are now being sued by these land owners based on our piers trespassing on the lakebed of which Duke has the flow age easement. Owners say that Duke energy never had the right to issue pier permits in this area. No communication of trespass has been made in over 50 years. What is your advise

Reply

Glenn S. Phillips May 29, 2019 at 1:30 pm

We are sorry to hear of your issue. At this point, this has become a legal matter, and as a brokerage we are not allowed to offer legal guidance. Generally speaking, land and title rights have a years of existing laws to guide in disputes. Real estate title insurance companies that focus on problem resolution may have insight that would be helpful, as well as an attorney with familiarity of land and easements. Best wishes for a speedy resolution!

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